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Those who have experienced action learning know the wide variety of forms it can take. There can be vast differences of interpretation and application. The lack of a tightly defined framework can be a distraction, especially to those accustomed to curriculum design.
On the other hand, the flexibility of action learning in promoting learning and elevating organizational performance can be highly attractive. This article covers action learning in a contextual way, first, by relating it to two societal trends.
Three examples are then provided that leave the reader free to interpret their significance and how they differ from traditional approaches to problem resolution. The remainder of the article then outlines action learning principles. The goal is an integrated view of action learning in application, including some contrasting beliefs.
Action learning is gaining in popularity as a way to improve performance, promote learning, and position organizations to adapt better in turbulent times.
It is also seen as a way to develop the capabilities of individuals, teams, and overall organizations. They include TRW, Inc. Action learning, as a concept, dates back more than 50 years.
It has, until recently, received more interest and attention outside the United States. Its roots can be traced to action research, a concept and term originated by the German psychologist, Kurt Lewin, in the s Weisbord,pp. Revans, of England, originally an astrophysicist, pioneered the concepts related to action learning over more than 50 years ago.
His effort is extensively documented and involved much in-depth research, including work in coal mines, hospitals, and with industry in Belgium.
Action learning can take a variety of forms. In other cases, it can be closely interwoven with other organizational interventions.
In such cases, a number of labels may apply, including organization development ODmanagement development, team building, and transformative learning.
He is more inclined to describe action learning in terms of what it is not. Revans, in effect, holds the view that to try and build finite structures around it, as is usually done with management concepts, only robs action learning of its power.
It can be like trying to sail the Queen Elizabeth II in a bathtub. A highly definitive concept with narrow parameters simply does not fit the subject.
The eclectic nature of action learning, drawing from various disciplines, also makes finely chiseled depictions difficult. My strategy for explaining action learning in this article is to frame it in relation to societal trends and the prism of practice.
This will allow me to isolate some of the most basic characteristics and underpinnings associated with action learning.
I will begin with two broad societal trends that are perceived to be influencing present day interest in action learning. Then I will turn to three actual examples of action learning, two from the United States and one from Europe.
What contributed to the positive results realized in each instance? The concluding coverage in my article will map some of the major features of what is commonly associated with action learning.
This will also encompass some of the issues that can arise in implementing an action learning program and how to go about putting such a program in place.
Two Societal Trends and Their Implications The first societal trend relates to significant disillusionment with initiatives to improve the quality of work life and performance.
It is frequently expressed in terms of marginal results and knee-jerk, short-lived initiatives. The disillusionment often stems from management approaches that do not prove out. This can take several forms: The initiative was launched without a full awareness of its implications, and the workforce may have been left in the dark.
This can be particularly true in downsizing situations.Workers’ participation in management may take the form of ascending or descending participation. In ascending participation an opportunity is given to the workers to participate in the decision making process at a higher level.
The “Management by Objective” (MBO) approach, in the sense that it requires all managers to set specific objectives to be achieved in the future and encourages them to continually ask what more can be done, is offered as a partial answer to this question of.
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